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Memorial Tattoo for Rocky

Rocky Kees (December 20, 1949 - August 14, 2013)

Rocky Kees (December 20, 1949 – August 14, 2013)

As you know, my gymnastics coach and mentor of 24 years – Rocky – died earlier this year. Shortly after he passed away, I started thinking about whether I wanted to get a memorial tattoo in his honor. Surprisingly, I’m still leaning towards “no,” but I’m entertaining the thought process.

I had a conversation with Rocky’s daughter and my teammates about some of the imagery that we associate with Rocky. This list we came up with definitely showed what a unique and special guy he was:

  • Leg warmers (that he would wear over his sweatpants)
  • Coffee in his left hand, cigarette in his right
  • Baby duck (his nickname for a lot of us)
  • Altoids (that he would eat 6 at a time)
  • Dancing – he was always dancing

And there are the great lines he gave us:

  • “Get a helmet.”
  • “Turn the page.”
  • “It’s only hard.”
  • “Do what you know how to do.”

The hard thing about picking a tattoo is it’s challenging to capture a feeling in an image. What I loved most about Rocky wasn’t the way he looked like or what he said, but how I felt when I was around him. He knew how to make everyone feel special. When you were talking with him, you knew that he genuinely cared about how the topic affected you. We talked for hours and I always felt that unconditional positive regard from him. How do I put that into a tattoo?

I recently saw a video from best-selling sci-fi author Scott Sigler. He’s an incredible guy with a loyal fan base (called Junkies). These guys love his work so much they get tattoos of images from his book. (If you get a Sigler tattoo, he’ll write you into one of his books.) Two of his fans have had Scott sign their skin with a Sharpie and they immediately got it tattooed into their bodies. It’s pretty cool actually.

Rocky SignatureThis got me thinking – I have Rocky’s signature. My gym did a big annual show and I had my coaches and teammates sign my program each year. I could, if I wanted a memorial tattoo, get his signature inked into my skin. He had such a profound influence on my life that it would be an appropriate way to honor him. Like an artist gets to sign their paintings, it wouldn’t be weird to say Rocky get to claim his impact on me, and so many other people.

So where would I put it? Probably on the back of my left leg, just above my ankle. Rocky always had my back and usually stood just over my left shoulder so it would be sweet to put his name on my left side.

I would probably add “1949-2013” beneath it so anyone who saw it would know it’s a memorial tattoo, not a love interest. We’ll see if I get the sign that I’m supposed to get this.


  1. Jeff Moriarty says:

    I dunno. From everything you told me about Rocky he wanted all of his “kids” to grow up and be themselves, whoever that might be. You are not his creation that should bear his signature.

    From the picture you’ve painted for me of Rocky, I don’t think he’d want you to get a tattoo like that. I think as much as you remember, talk about, and love him would be quite enough.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I’m sure a tattoo is not necessary, and I probably won’t get it, but I think he would be touched if I did.

      Too many coaches, like stage parents, live vicariously through their gymnasts and claim their kids’ performances as their own. Rocky was different. He said that he got a 4% claim to whatever we did on the competition floor – good and bad. With me, he definitely earned his 4%. I think a small discrete tattoo in his honor would be in alignment with that.